Upcycling is a little bit of recycling, and a little bit of craft. It’s the “art” of creatively transforming ordinary things into uniquely elegant or whimsical objects. Environmental lifestyle expert Danny Seo presents 100 of his favorite “Upcycling” projects that are fun and easy to do—all are 3 steps or less! Here's an excerpt.
Chapter One: Upcycling Ideas for Decorating
When I was nineteen years old, I left my parents’ home in Reading, Pennsylvania for Washington, DC where I worked as a part-time lobbyist for nonprofit environmental group while simultaneously writing my very first book about my teenage activism years. Living on my own, I was intent on having a studio apartment that was beautifully decorated and looked grown-up. But with modest means, that also meant I couldn’t go to a fancy furniture store and buy all new pieces. Instead, I slowly searched for bargains at local flea markets, thrift shops, and even Dumpster dived when other tenants would move out of my apartment building. My first upcycling project as a first-time tenant involved an old church pulpit I found on the street: I took it home, painted it with three coats of gray paint, added wheels, and turned it into a TV stand. The shelves on the back that once held Bibles now held cassette tapes and DVDs, which could be easily accessed by simply wheeling the podium forward. I called it sacrilegious chic.
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I still have that TV stand today, and it just goes to show that with a little elbow grease and ingenuity, timeless pieces can be created with very little money. Upcycled items for the home aren’t just economical; they can also be one-of-a-kind pieces that add character to one’s home. While it’s tempting to order everything on the pages of a catalog when it comes to decorating your home, why would you? If your family and your home are unique to you, why decorate it in a generic, one-size-fits-all style? It doesn’t take much to turn a ho-hum room into one that could easily be photographed for the pages of a magazine. Try an upcycled rug, a collection of upcycled decorative accessories, or make an upcycled pillow for the boring sofa you’ve been thinking about replacing. Think of these handmade items like sprinkles: sure a cupcake on its own tastes good, but that dash of sprinkles makes the experience even better.
Bear-“Skin” Oriental Rug
You know that chain-store oriental-style rug that’s been rolled up and stashed away in the basement the past five years? Upcycle it into a whimsical bearskin rug with just a few simple tools. The more ornate and—I can’t believe I’m writing this—tacky the rug is, the better the finished result will be with this project. A good tip: if you pick up a used rug from a fleamarket or thrift store, be sure to have it professionally cleaned to remove any traces of possible bed bugs, dustmites, and other allergens. If it’s winter, you can always leave the rug outdoors overnight in below freezing temperatures; it’ll literally freeze whatever’s lurking inside to death. Just give it a good vacuuming before bringing it inside.
SUPPLIES: Used oriental rug (any size), sharp scissors (I like the Fiskars brand), hot glue gun with extra glue sticks, permanent marker, any kind of thin rope that coordinates with the color of rug you’re upcycling.
HOW TO: Flip the rug upside down on the floor so you’re working on the back side. Using a permanent marker, trace the shape of a bearskin rug, using as much of the surface as possible to get the largest finished rug. If you mess up, no worries; just adjust your silhouette with the marker until you’re happy; you’ll never see the back side anyway, so keep tracing until it looks like a bearskin rug. Using sharp scissors, cut the shape of the rug and discard the scraps. To prevent fraying, use a hot glue gun to adhere rope around the perimeter of the rug.
Cassette-Tape Tissue Box
Leaving a box of tissues on the bathroom counter can be unsightly, but a box of Kleenex is a toiletry essential. Instead of buying a store-bought tissue box container, raid your stash of cassette tapes instead. The end result of this upcycling project is one that’s both functional and unique and is an absolute cinch to make.
SUPPLIES: Twelve clear cassette tape covers and hot glue gun.
HOW TO: Glue eight of the cassette tape covers together to create an open box on the top and bottom. Glue two cassette tape covers together to create the bottom, but do not glue them to the box; you’ll need to keep this open so you can easily refill the tissue box. For the top, remove half of each cassette tape cover off, and glue them on top so you have a 1-inch opening on top. Remove the cardboard covering off the box of tissues, and carefully place the stacked tissues inside the cassette tape box; pull the top sheet through the top, and you’re good to sneeze.
This upcycling project came to life by accident one night when I was melting crayons over a double boiler in the kitchen in preparation for an appearance the next morning on Today to show Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford how to recycle crayons. With some excess melted wax at the bottom of the Pyrex container, I decided to let it cool. What popped out was a shiny, swirly, beautiful creation that I realized could be made into the most amazing upcycled crayon vases.
SUPPLIES: Variety of crayons with paper sleeves removed, old Pyrex measuring cups no longer used for cooking, an old cooking pot.
HOW TO: Bring around two inches of water to a simmering boil on the stove. Break up the crayons into small pieces, and place them inside the Pyrex measuring cup, about two to three inches inside the cup. Place the measuring cup inside the pot, and slowly heat the crayons until completely melted. Remove the Pyrex container from the pot, and allow it to cool for one minute. Using a dry dishtowel, hold the Pyrex container by the handle, and slowly swirl it, coating the sides of the cup with thin layers of melted crayon. Keep swirling until the entire inside is coated and there is no more melted wax pooled at the bottom of the cup. Place the cup in the freezer for one hour. To remove the vase, press your fingers on the inside of the vase against the glass until it releases; it should pop out easily.
Excerpted from Upcycling by Danny Seo. Copyright © 2011 by Danny Seo Ventures. Excerpted with permission by Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
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